ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- As the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit left Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 13 for the Amphibious Ready Group Exercise (ARGEX) aboard the ships of USS IWO JIMA Amphibious Ready Group, Marines of the MEU's embarkation section implemented their plan to move several thousand tons of combat and support equipment and nearly 1,800 Marines and Sailors to the three ships.
To accomplish this daunting task, the Marines developed a complex load plan to ensure that all the equipment that the MEU had to bring on board would fit in the allocated spaces aboard the USS Iwo Jima, USS Carter Hall and the USS Nashville.
Moving from base to ship takes time and focused coordination between the MEU embark section and the ships' combat cargo sections. Since May, embark Marines and combat cargo personnel have been planning the overall integration of the MEU personnel and their equipment on the Navy vessels for the work-ups and deployment, explained Sgt. Louis Sbrizza, the 26th MEU embark chief. A week prior to embarking for ARGEX, the Marines finalized their load plan with the each ship's combat cargo personnel.
A load plan is similar to putting together a puzzle; each piece of equipment has a certain measurement and each ship has a certain amount of space. Embark Marines must piece the equipment into those spaces while ensuring the load plan is in accordance with the MEU commander's tactical landing plan. The landing plan is based on what equipment should be ready to come off the ships first to conduct operations ashore.
Because the ships of the IWO JIMA ARG are designed to carry MEU personnel and equipment into combat, the Marines use nearly 80 percent of each ship's available space to store all the gear, added Sgt. Stanley Sterchak, the MEU embark noncommissioned officer. This space includes the flight deck, hanger deck, upper and lower "V," which is the bottom storage area of the ship where the vehicles are stored.
Prior to the Marines coming aboard, combat cargo ensures that each ship is ready to receive the MEU Marines, Sailors and equipment. Combat cargo Marines train MEU advance party Marines on how to embark personnel and equipment and both parties read the MEU's prepared load plan, said Gunnery Sgt. George Lee, the combat cargo assistant aboard the USS Iwo Jima.
Lee further explained how combat cargo Marines ensure that the embarked troops have adequate living and workspaces and food based upon the personnel numbers that are reported as coming aboard.
The first time this logistical puzzle came together for this Navy-Marine Corps team was during the PHIBRON/MEU Integration Exercise in August. While the embark Marines expressed that the current plan is good, there were still areas that needed to be worked out during ARGEX.
Sbrizza said the biggest adjustment was shuffling vehicles around to make them fit. He realized that even though the plan worked well on paper, it wasn't working in reality and the embark crew had to make adjustments as the gear came aboard. "Currently the load plan is about 95 percent complete, in my opinion. There are still some minor tweaks to be made to give us a final plan that should fulfill the MEU Commander's intent for employment of his assets," he said.
"We are above average given this time in the work-ups," Sterchak said. "The key is to know that each ship is slightly different, even if it is just an overhang that is six inches higher. We have to account for that in our plans."
After ARGEX, the MEU will return to shore, only to return to sea early next month for the Special Operations Capable (SOCEX) certification exercise. Upon successful completion of this capstone exercise, the MEU will be ready for deployment and the final load plan will be complete.
"By SOCEX, I am confident that we will be at 100 percent," said Sbrizza. "It is not that far of a stretch from where we are now."
To learn more about the hard work of these embark Marines, combat logistics or the other elements of the 26th MEU, visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.